Wednesday, April 6, 2016

End of the Line

**Since more than one person has wondered (in somewhat hushed tones) "what ever happened to Waylon?" 
                                 Here's the story that had been languishing in my draft folder for a while.**

A trip to the stockyard is not the pinnacle of our agricultural success. Not by a longshot.  No, a trip to the stockyard is really a last ditch effort to salvage something of a situation gone wrong. I hate to admit it, but to me, a trip to the stockyard is sort of sad and very much akin to admitting defeat.

Union Stock Yard

Now, I mean absolutely no offense to the stockyard.  As a matter of fact, I like the atmosphere of the sale barn.  It’s like a trip back in’s a different world at the stockyard. It is not chauvinism or misogyny that causes the old fellas to refer to me as “young lady” or “little lady” despite the fact that neither apply.  And, it’s not that I am weak or incapable to deal with the intricacies of selling that I defer to my husband, it’s just the way things have always been…and I’m pretty sure the way they will always be. The pens and the sawdust and the catwalk and the cobwebs are all part of the experience.  And, if those walls could talk…

scale operator at the stock yard

But, back to our reason for being at the stockyard in the first place…

There comes a time in every farm animal’s life when it finally reaches “the end of the line”. Raising animals for meat generally means that the animal ends up on someone’s table. But, what about the breeding stock? What about those not fit for the plate? What happens to them?

That’s where the stockyard comes in.  While I suppose it is possible to buy prime breeding animals through the stockyard, that’s not generally what goes walking through the ring.  Breeders are usually sold off the farm or through special sales.  If you’re looking for stocker cattle (those raised to a certain size on one operation and then sold to grow out on another) the sale barn is your place.  If you’re looking to buy something cheap, you head to the auction.  And, as a farmer, you load up those animals that just don’t have a place on your operation anymore and haul them to Tuesday or Friday’s sale. When it comes to “cull“ animals, you’re not necessarily going to get top dollar, but it does beat many of the options.
315 pounds
That's a lot of sheep!

When the ram went lame, we had to do something. So we did.  Which I wrote about here.  I may have failed to convey just what a big deal this problem created.  It could quite possibly be cataclysmic…but, that’s probably another blog post.

Once we bought the new ram, and he acclimated to the farm somewhat, it was time to turn him in with the ewes.  Breeding time was ‘a-wastin’.  The ewes only cycle once every 17 days or so, and that one day of cycle is the only day that they can become pregnant.  By missing this date, it would put lambing back by more than two weeks…and there is always the possibility that it didn’t “take” and that would put us back even further.  (later lambs would mean a change in the processing schedule and the very real possibility of NO lamb for sale…thus the use of the word cataclysmic in the paragraph above)

You can’t leave a small ram and a large ram together in a large space without some sort of difficulty. Particularly when the hormones are raging…and that’s what breeding season is all about.  You may wonder WHY you can’t leave rams together. Please note I did say in a large space.  If they are kept in a fairly small, tight enclosure, you shouldn’t have any problems.  But, with plenty of space, they will “ram” one another. “Ram” one another to the death. Seriously. We had that happen once. We had a big Suffolk ram and a little Cotswold ram and went out one morning to find the small ram deader than the proverbial doornail. Lesson learned the hard way.

So, Waylon was relegated to the barn where we hoped he would recover.

Angus, outfitted with his brand-new harness, was turned in with the ewes, where his instincts took control and he started to “work” immediately.

checking the ram harness

But, what to do with Waylon?  The truth of the matter is, Waylon was due to leave the farm at the end of the season…or maybe next year. We really like Waylon and he made some great lambs, and it would have been nice to keep him forever. But after using a ram for a number of years, you need to get some new blood in the flock, particularly if you keep his daughters. (sheep breeding 101 needs to be another post)

I must say Waylon was pretty awesome and perhaps my favorite ram ever. You can read this post I wrote on his behalf about sheep here on the hill. Click THIS. He was even on the cover of a magazine once. But, it appeared we were at the end of the line...whether we were ready or not.
what a handsome ram!
-Tony Giammarino image

Waylon seemed content to be in the barn with food and water.  So content that he laid down. That made it easier to check on his hoof issues, but I could never find anything definitive.  It really seemed to be further up his leg.

For three days I didn’t see him get up. We tried everything. He was tempted with all the tasty morsels that a sheep finds delicious.  He was poked and prodded and startled on more than one occasion. It was evident that he had in fact moved, but not much.

When he finally did stand up, he was favoring yet another leg. Oh, great. (not really) The Boss considered putting him down. Both of us hate this option. It really is the last ditch.  And, in this case seemed a little extreme.  Besides, the earth was rock hard from a week or so of high temperatures and no rain.  To dig a hole big enough for a 300 pound creature was going to be out of the question. 

Maybe a few more days?

Apparently, his front foot issues were temporary and cleared up quickly.  He still wasn’t using his back leg much and he didn’t show much interest when the other sheep came down to the barn for feeding time. And, he didn’t want to eat.

An animal that won’t eat is worrisome. Generally a loss of appetite indicates other issues. We checked his eyes for anemia...they looked a little pale, but nothing definitive. Erring on the side of caution, we gave him a dose of an antihelminthic, hoping to rid him of any internal parasites. Still nothing.

If he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t go to the stockyard, if he couldn’t go to the stockyard, we really didn’t know what to do with him. A 300-pound ram is NOT something anyone would consider for a pet. Rams can be dangerous. And, while a ram that can’t walk might not be dangerous, it would not be at all practical.

But, wonder of wonders, he stood up. He walked around. Although he was still limping badly and wasn’t terribly interested in food (and still had no interest in the rest of the flock), he was able to get on the truck and ride to the stockyard.
on the way to the stock yard

When you take an animal to the stockyard, the final price has nothing to do with pedigree, or performance, or even if the animal is attractive. The price is calculated on weight, and weight alone. This worked to our advantage, since “Waylon” weighed in at over 300 pounds. And for some reason, every single fella at the stockyard that saw him had to say something about our “little” ram. It was weirdly amusing. But, our “little” ram’s enormous weight made the check we received the following week fairly substantial (for a culled animal).

So, with check in hand, we closed the books on “Waylon” the ram. While we know he went somewhere after he limped his way through the ring at the stockyard, we really don’t know where. And, some of you probably don’t want to think about the very real possibilities since I am almost certain it wasn't a ram retirement community.
that's all we got for the "little" ram

But, he had certainly reached the end of the line here on the hill.

                                ...on to the next chapter.


  1. We have just within the last two years have begun raising sheep but mostly for our daughters 4-H project. I grew up on a farm so I know this is how things go even though I hate to think about it. Reading your story almost brought tears to my eyes,(I am an animal lover all around). But good luck in your next chapter!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!
      I hope your sheep projects are going well.
      Farm life includes lots of good and bad. But, things generally work out in the end. I hope this story didn't sound like it didn't.
      So far, the next chapter is looking pretty good.
      Have a great week! Come "visit" again soon.

  2. Is that Angus in the bottom photo? A truly gorgeous animal!

    1. Hi ya!

      Yes, that is Angus. I meant to identify him. He IS gorgeous...and makes some purty babies. :)

  3. I hope you don't get push back from this post. I think was an honest account of what happens on a working farm- thank you for writing it. I'm a wannabe hobby farmer in the rural/suburban Nashville area and I love the insight you provide in your blog posts. So far I've gotten as far as a vegetable garden!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting!
      So far, no negativity. (YAY)
      I hope that you'll have great success in your ventures. Gardening is a GREAT start! I love having the critters, but they do bring a whole new set of issues with them.
      Have a great week. Come "visit" us again.

  4. Lovely post Barbara. You have given Waylon a good and happy life - and the time had come to be realistic. That's farming whether you like it or not. Happy memories of him.

    1. Thanks, Pat!
      Farming isn't always rosy, but it is rewarding.